Primate's plea to three Catholic grammar schools to end selection now
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has issued a passionate plea to its own schools to stop using academic selection.
Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said: "In this day and age no young person should be turned away from a Catholic school on the basis of their mark in an entrance test at the age of 10 or 11."
He appealed directly to three Catholic grammar schools in the Archdiocese of Armagh, which takes in parts of counties Tyrone and Londonderry. They are St Joseph's Convent Grammar in Donaghmore, St Mary's Grammar in Magherafelt and St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon.
The three schools are among the top performing institutions in Northern Ireland. St Joseph's achieved the best GCSE results in Northern Ireland last year, while St Mary's was third and St Patrick's was ranked 37th.
They were all in the top 25 in terms of A-Level results with St Mary's rated 7th, St Patrick's rated 13th, and St Joseph's ranked 25th.
In total there are more than 20 Catholic secondary schools in Northern Ireland that still use academic selection.
They include St Dominic's in west Belfast, which topped the A-Level league table last year, Lumen Christi in Derry, which was second, and St Louis Grammar in Kilkeel, which was third.
A spokesman for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools clarified that none of its schools used academic selection. Those that do so are in the voluntary grammar sector.
There has been movement in the Catholic sector over academic selection with Omagh Christian Brothers' School and Loreto Grammar, both in Co Tyrone, announcing last year that they will either phase out or end academic selection after a period of consultation with people in the local area.
St Patrick's Grammar School in Armagh city is also set to drop academic selection.
While giving a Mass of thanksgiving at St Brigid's High in Armagh city on Sunday, Archbishop Martin praised those schools that had announced plans to move away from academic selection.
He also announced his intention to work with the boards of governors of the three remaining grammar schools in the Archdiocese to "encourage and help them find a way of ending academic selection in the near future".
"I am completely confident that these fantastic schools shall be able to continue their outstanding service to Catholic education without the use of academic selection.
"Catholic schools are called to serve all pupils and especially the poor and most disadvantaged of society.
"We must always be on the lookout for those who are being left behind or neglected in any way in our catholic education system."
The top cleric pointed out that the founders of Catholic schools were inspired by a "preferential option for the marginalised and poor". He also expressed concern at the fact that two-thirds of young people in Northern Ireland from socially disadvantaged backgrounds not gaining 5 GCSEs at A*-C (including English and maths".
Academic selection for secondary schools was abolished by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, and the last official tests took place in 2008.
However, 65 secondary schools still use unofficial tests to determine which students they will admit.